Friday, February 05, 2010

An opinion on e-Readers

My boss said something interesting that I think bears repeating. She does not own an e-Reader (I do) and she really feels that publishing companies are shooting themselves in the foot in a variety of ways in getting in these huge, confusing fights with Amazon, Sony, and Google over eBook rights.

Until the technology vastly improves and the price drastically drops, she doesn't see e-Readers as a viable format and therefore a threat to publishing as we know it. Amazon claims to have sold 500,000 Kindles, a very impressive number until you realize there's 308,618,000 people in America, so if my math is correct (which it rarely is, so double-check), only one in every 617 people own one. The main reason, though, is the price tag. The huge purchase of an electronic reader serves as the gateway to eBooks, which then have to be paid for individually - as opposed to people simply buying the book they want. It becomes an entrance fee to books, which previously had none. Are only rich people going to be buying books? Because you have to have a decent income to afford one of these devices (I got mine for my birthday). Do we really want a culture where information is available primarily for the wealthy?

Putting out an e-Edition of the book also messes with sales projections, as a ton of people buy it the day it comes out, and then interest drops tremendously, it drops tremendously in rank, and it's hard for word-of-mouth to build on a book with a small opening. I can't plot out all of the economics here, but it's not a good buying trend.

I've felt for some considerable time that the answer to publishing is libraries. Publishing needs to put huge money into supporting and promoting libraries. You may think that's crazy, as libraries lend books out for free, but where do you think they get those books? Libraries serve as huge buyers for books, and in the case of many academic books are the bulk of sales. So really, if someone could get cracking on making libraries not seem like the most depressing places on earth, that would be great.